Shades of Green
My dear friend and neighbor, Marija, was reunited with her beloved father in heaven last Saturday after an auto accident. She was my age. Her adoring husband and two young children are bereft. I am too.
Marija was an interior designer. She loved beauty. For her, beauty was a way to give, to honor, to share- especially with her family. It was also a passion. It was her gift. She honored that gift by using it and enjoying it. She did lots of work for her extended family, in the process sharing her gift for making peaceful spaces with the people she loved.
We were really different people in many ways. We were, however, bonded from our first encounter by our mutual excitement about life’s possibilities and interest in people. We were both in marriages where we were lucky enough to be treasured by our husbands, who patiently and amusedly indulged our impulsive personalities. We joked early on that everyone assumed we were the ones who “ran the show” at home- never understanding that it was the wisdom, calm and patience of our husbands that kept us in check. And we knew it. And we loved it.
Marija and I were often over-the-top about our passions. It was kind of funny like that. She would often share with me the details of some design nuance she was mired in- which tone of grey, which shade of white. When I’d give her that raised eyebrow that said, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” she’d respond with a quip about “hormone-free, pasture-raised chicken, but oh is it antibiotic free?” and we would both laugh.
And that’s really what I want to say to my readers here who aren’t really interested in reading my eulogy of my friend. As parents who want to be the best parents they can be, we are often afraid to indulge the pleasures that seem to be for us alone. So many of us convince ourselves that we are taking something away from our families when we do things that we love “just for ourselves.”
The reality, which is so clear from the example of Marija’s life, is that when you are focused on deeply and honestly loving your family, your passions inevitably pour out onto them. They fill everyone. They help your children know your soul, not just the person who is responsible for clothing them and keeping them safe. That is a huge gift to them. You won’t always do that perfectly- my daughter recently confessed that the reason why she didn’t want me to chaperone her canoe trip was because she wanted to go and just eat the junkfood without having to talk to me about it. Fair enough. I’m sure Marija’s kids sometimes just wanted things to stay messy for a while.
If you don’t know what your passion is, it is probably just a tiny seedling. It is probably something you’ve told yourself you’re not good enough at or wouldn’t make enough money at or would be a silly waste of time. Don’t do that. Nurture it. It may feed your family someday in ways you can’t imagine.
When I first got to know Marija, she told me a story that I have retold many times. It is a poignant illustration of how hard it can be to understand people and what moves them.
Marija was helping her parents decorate an oceanfront condo in Croatia. They were planning to retire and spend their summers there, close to lots of other family from their homeland as well as the States. Her mother was insistent that the kitchen be done in a certain shade of green- a dark evergreen color. Marija was appalled and sparred with her mom over this for days. They decided to let the whole color issue cool off while Marija and Corey journeyed to the very remote village in which Marija’s parents were born and where her grandmother and much of her extended family remains.
During that visit, her grandmother had some occasion to take Marija into the old family barn. “Bubba” retrieved an old-fashioned key- which Marija described to me as being cartoonishly large. They walked out together towards the barn. As the barn came into sight, Marija had a breathtaking realization. The barn was the exact shade of green that her mother was so drawn to decorate with as she returned to create her own home in her homeland.
The last time I saw Marija we got together to sit on my front porch and have coffee during a rainstorm. Delightful, actually. She started off the conversation by relating a story about how upset she was that the leaves of the new boxwoods that her landscapers had put in were a different shade of green than the existing ones in the row.
“Oh dear God, Marija. You have the energy to stress over that!?,” I thought, as we transitioned the conversation to a beautiful party she’d gone to recently.
Last Sunday, in a gesture that probably did more to make me feel better than anyone else, I made two homemade lasagnas– we’re talkin’ homemade sauce and noodles, freshly ground pork and veal and hand-pressed ricotta. I brought them over to the throngs of grieving family at the house. As I began to serve them, I realized I’d forgotten to bring over some Parmigiano-Reggiano and uttered as much out loud.
“Oh, Marija has Parmesan!” offered one of her cousins as she headed to the refrigerator.
My heart started to race. Oh, God what if she pulls out the green can?!? I can’t say that’s not good enough because it is Marija’s green can. But that crap on my beautiful homemade lasagnas? Nooooooo.
And then that green can clanked down on the marble countertop before me. “Um, okay. (sigh) Let’s find a pretty dish to serve it in.”
Green leaves. Green can. We were both on the fringes at times. That was our thing.
Live with joy.